Association of Indians in America hosts awareness conference

Professor Shivaji Sengupta. Photo: courtesy AIA

The National Executive Committee of the Association of Indians in America (AIA) hosted a conference May 16, 2022, on ‘What is Awareness and Empathy and How Can We Increase Them In Us.’

The idea for this conference was conceived by Gobind P. Munjal, president of National AIA, Asmita Bhatia, AIA trustee. Also a participant was recently-retired Vice President and English Professor Shivaji Sengupta of Boricua College, a small, private, not for profit liberal arts institution in New York City, a press release from AIA said.

As vice president, Sengupta worked with the full-time faculty to develop awareness and empathy so that they may be better facilitators of learning.

More than 42 attendees, all participating via Zoom, participated in the meeting. National AIA Secretary, Gunjan Rastogi  introduced Munjal to the audience.

While introducing Prof. Sengupta, Munjal said the world was  sharply world today, and the war in Ukraine shows no signs of abating. Internally, sharp differences between the political parties and social groups were tearing the country apart with unrest and violence, he added. These are all happening because of lack of communication between people, a milieu in which it would be a good idea to discuss awareness and empathy, and how developing them may help others, Munjal said.

Gobind Munjal. Photo: courtesy Gobind Munjal

Prof. Sengupta began the discussion by explaining what he means by awareness and empathy. Awareness is being conscious, not only of the environment around us, the atmosphere, the people, nature, but also conscious of how we are feeling as we are aware of them. It is the latter – how we are feeling – that is hard for us to be aware of, Sengupta said. Empathy is the ability to gauge the feeling of a person one is in the company of. This ability to “be in someone else’s shoes,” as they say, the ability to communicate with feeling and self-awareness, is empathy.

But awareness and empathy cannot happen without contact. Sengupta explained contact as not only being in touch with someone but being aware of the nature of the contact itself. Contact, he said, is not instantaneous and sudden, but a process. Awareness is its consequence. We need to nurture contact if we are to develop empathy, he said.

Empathy, unlike sympathy, is active. When in empathy, we reach out to help. Sympathy is more intellectual, aloof. Empathy is active, he said noting the continuum among the three elements – contact, awareness and empathy, though there are other elements that we need to know to enhance awareness and empathy such as field and energy that the Bhagwat Gita calls kshetra. There is also the notion of control and difference. All of this help someone to work with differences among people, to bring about mutual understanding and empathy and resolve conflicts.

The presentation lasted about 20 minutes. It was followed by lively discussions by most of the participants. Some of the questions were about Covid. Since Covid has affected so many millions of people in the world, for well over two years, and counting, could it have affected people’s awareness, since awareness depends on contact?

Sengupta responded that theoretically, yes. But there needs to be thorough research to prove his hypothesis. Other questions were about explanations of terms. Participants asked for clarifications and examples.

It was decided at the end of the meeting to hold another session roughly in about a month.




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